By Stacy Jenel Smith
With Britney Spears
' latest marry-go-round, the provocative pop princess has once again incited admiration (she pulled off a secret wedding!), aggravation (she led press astray with a bogus secret wedding!) and amusement (they served chicken fingers and crab cakes?!).
Britney followers are debating her possible reasons for marrying backup dancer Kevin Federline - pregnancy, publicity for her new perfume and record, or even?love?
We asked some top show business image makers for advice for Britney, and found that the views here in Hollywood are just as diverse as they are elsewhere. No names, please, they have client lists to think about.
"It's obvious she emulates Madonna
, who's a good figure for her," notes one A-list celebrity handler. "Madonna was one of the few who truly understood Andy Warhol's 'fifteen minutes of fame,' and she makes herself over every 15 minutes. If Britney wants to follow Madonna's code, that's fine, but she doesn't have to take her life into chaos to do it. It doesn't seem she's a happy person. You know, it's true that the only thing harder to deal with than failure is success. Why is she exploiting herself? I think I would take her aside, like a dad, and say, 'You're doing things that are reckless."
From another Hollywood veteran: "I don't think she's trying to change her image. I just think she's a dumb person and not a particularly mature person, who is a child of show business who's been given license to play in the big sandbox and do whatever she wants. Unless she gains some maturity, she'll wind up forgotten like many others before her."
Oh, yeah? How about this take from an image-maker with a roster of top music names:
"Is there an image problem?" he laughs. "Considering her new song is called 'My Prerogative,' she has clearly drawn a line in the sand that she wants to be viewed as an adult. I think it's really powerful what she's doing, tripping up the media. Look at her competition -- Avril Lavigne and that new girl from Canada (Skye Sweetnam), going the bad girl route. This is kind of like Britney's 'Justify My Love' video, what is happening right now," he adds, referring to Madonna's inflammatory song. "This is her moment. And the world is watching every move she makes. She may remind us of someone we've seen coming out of a gas station bathroom, barefoot. But yes, we're interested."
Says another pro whose clients you know, "She's acting like the 'Girl Out of Control.' She's in need of a spanking," he says, half-joking, "but the spanking may be about 12 years too late."
Others take up the issue of music.
"Her recent songs have sucked," one industryite says bluntly. "Clearly, it's not about the music any more and it hasn't been for years. It's time to refocus on the music."
"Britney, babe, the best advice for you would be to quietly go away for several months, surround yourself with some great songwriters and producers, get back in the studio and try to come out with a killer album," echoes another. "Let's face it, even our biggest pop stars, Elvis, the King, and Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, became more known for their eccentricities later in life. But the difference is they first became famous for their talent." She adds a warning, "In a perfect world, one should receive nothing but well wishes and blessings when one decides to enter into the sanctimony of marriage. But when you keep jerking the public's chain - married, not married, married -- it inevitably turns against you. People go from caring, to not giving a damn, to actively wishing you ill will. It's time to stop selling wolf tickets to the public and the press, Britney. Otherwise you'll find yourself just like that unfortunate boy who cried wolf one too many times...all alone -- just you and the wolf."
"Perception schizophrenia is not only not good for one's image, but one's soul," declares another veteran image-maker, who also points out that the public is turned off when celebrities behave in hypocritical ways. "Like Ben Affleck, who was complaining about overexposure and then doing everything he did to court that. There was an incongruity, and people responded, thinking, 'Hey, we didn't ASK him to do this.' And Michael Jackson - acting confused about why people think he's wacky."
So, Britney may be in danger of going the same route? "If she's satisfied with where she is in her life, and she thinks this is good, she should act consistent with that. I think that celebrities' images are best when they're not only consistent with who they are, but who they yearn to be - and who they yearn to be remembered as," he adds. "Will she be happy ten years from now if she's remembered for a collection of tabloid stories? Or will she want to be thought of for her work?"
A Hollywood public relations specialist answers that rhetorical question, saying, "I think part of the problem is that she doesn't know what her work is. She's been dealing in sensations for so long, maybe that's what she thinks she has to do."